Monday, June 20, 2022

Wild West Sayings We Use Today Part 35

Welcome back for another fun adventure into words and their history. Today, we'll look at a mix of idioms. In each case, I learned something I didn't know--but that's the fun of it. Enjoy!

Wild West Sayings We Use Today Part 35


Today, as in the Wild West, we use ‘smack-dab’ to describe something that strikes squarely in the center. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘smack,’ can be used as an adverb to mean “with, or as with, a smack; suddenly and violently; slap.” This sense is used in ‘smack-down,’ ‘smack-through,’ and related phrases. ‘Dab’ is a British word for clever or skilled (For example: He is a dab hand at it.) Slap dab is a variation of smack-dab.

Historical Reference: The Oxford English Dictionary states that smack-dab first appeared in print in 1892: "He hit him smack dab in the mouth" OED [Dialect Notes I, 232].

Example: He shot that arrow smack dab in the middle of the target.


If ever a word summoned images of grizzled cowboys huddled over a campfire, it’s ‘flapjacks.’ It was certainly used during the Wild West era, but ‘flapjacks’ originated in Britain during the 1600s. Today, when Brits use this term, they mean oatcakes. In America, ‘flapjacks’ is a quaint word for pancakes.

‘Flap’ comes from the act of flipping, and ‘jack’ from the name ‘Jack.’ The connection of ‘Jack’ to batter cakes fried in a pan seems to be lost in time. It may have something to do with the use of ‘Jack’ to mean ‘common man’ (as in ‘jack of all trades).

Historical Reference: This term showed up in Shakespeare’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” between 1606 and 1608: “Come, thou shalt go home, and we’ll have flesh for holidays, fish for fasting-days, and moreo’er puddings and flap-jacks, and thou shalt be welcome.”

Example: “My uncle makes the best flapjacks in town.”

Slower than Molasses in January

The Great Molasses Flood
Aftermath of Boston's Great Molasses Flood

This American slang expression paints a perfect picture of something that moves painfully slow. It stems from a single event where, surprisingly enough, molasses ran rather quickly.

Historical Reference: The Great Molasses Flood occurred on Wednesday, January 15, 1919. The temperature was 43 degrees Fahrenheit in Boston when a 58-foot tank containing 2.5 million gallons of the sticky stuff split, resulting in a 25-foot tidal wave of molasses flooding a low-lying area (between Copps Hill and North End Park). It wrecked an elevated train and turned buildings into rubble.

Estimates at the time claim that the molasses, propelled by its sheer weight, ran through the cobblestone streets at speeds between 25 and 35 mph. Molasses thickens in cool weather, but the contents of the tank had just been topped off with a fresh shipment from the Caribbean. As can be imagined, the cooling molasses complicated efforts to rescue victims.

Example: “When it comes to getting ready for school, my daughter is slow as molasses in January.”

The origin of 'slower than molasses in January surprised me most. I sensed a story behind it, but I had no idea of its depth. How about you? Which of the word origins that we explored today will remain with you? 

What's New with Janalyn Voigt

Something few people know about me is that I am descended from Bohemian immigrants to America. They settled in Missouri, in a homestead on Pea Ridge. As a child, I slept in that humble abode while visiting my great-uncle and -aunt. That dwelling still stands, but it is now closed up. Like so many other relics scattered about the countryside, it has surrendered to the ravages of time. And yet...

My memories of the place carry me back to a time when it functioned as a family home. Perhaps, when this etymology series ends, I will write about this very personal slice of history, and the lifestyle I shared on visits ''back East." What I am seeing in grassroots America today is a mass return to a simpler way of living. I have spent the past decade learning (and recalling) homestead skills. They are needed now more than ever. I'll say more on this in future months. Meanwhile, stay safe and set aside a little food now for later. God bless. Janalyn

Montana Gold follows the lives and loves of a family of Irish immigrants surviving in the Wild West.


  1. Thanks for continuing this fun series. I think I had heard of a molasses flood but I had forgotten. And I was familiar with all of these terms. Flapjacks is the one I don't ever use. I just call them pancakes, lol.

  2. Hi, Connie. I had trouble signing in to reply to you. Thanks for your comment. I don't call pancakes flapjacks either, but maybe I'll start. :) I'd never heard of the molasses flood. It sounds funny, but people actually died in it.